Stories about: Advanced Fetal Care Center

Meet Ryan: The boy who grew his own esophagus

Dr. Rusty Jennings, Ryan Page, Dr. John Foker
Dr. Rusty Jennings, Ryan Page, Dr. John Foker

Eleven-year-old Ryan Page is a budding trombone player whose favorite foods include candy, popcorn and hot dogs. “Ryan loves any choking hazard,” jokes his mother Tracy.

When Ryan was born, few would have predicted he would be able tolerate these foods or master the trombone. “His doctors told us he had the longest gap they had ever seen in a baby with esophageal atresia,” recalls Tracy. Ryan was born with a nearly 4-inch gap between the top and bottom parts of his esophagus.

“This is a kid whose predestination based on standard therapy was chronic aspiration (breathing food, liquid or vomit into the airway), chronic lung disease and multiple operations throughout his life. Instead, he’s a normal kid. That’s the miracle of the Foker process,” says Dr. Rusty Jennings, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Esophageal Atresia Treatment Center.

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Tale of two mothers: Bridge between families facing rare diseases brings hope

L-R Nora O'Brien-Lemanski, Callum O'Brien-Lemanski, Ella Shea
L-R Nora O’Brien-Lemanski, Callum O’Brien-Lemanski, Ella Shea

Toward the end of Ella Shea’s three-month stay in Boston Children’s Hospital in 2011, when doctors shared the x-rays that showed the treatment for her rare disease was working, her parents were overjoyed. Ella had beat GACI (generalized arterial calcification of infancy), an extremely rare disease with an 85 percent mortality rate.

Her mother Carrie had another thought—the next family facing this diagnosis will have more answers than we did.

Carrie’s hunch ultimately blossomed into something much bigger. She and her husband Michael forged a tremendous bond with another Boston Children’s family struggling with GACI and paved the way for a network of families supporting each other as they parent children with GACI.

Two years later, after an ultrasound showed brightness indicative of calcium in her unborn baby’s aorta, Christine O’Brien found herself Googling “arterial calcification on fetal ultrasound.”

“What I read was heartbreaking. The results pointed to GACI. There had only been 100 cases worldwide, and there is no specific treatment. Most babies die from a heart attack in the first year of life.”

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Life after cleft lip surgery: Finding Brooks’ smile

Brooks 4When Rick and Aimee Bellew learned that their second child Brooks would be born with a cleft lip and soft palate, they weren’t sure what to expect. So like most people looking for information, they took their questions to the Internet—which turned out to be a mistake.

“Just minutes into our first cleft lip search on Google and we were already devastated,” Aimee remembers. “The pictures staring back at us from the computer screen were so severe. We thought ‘there’s no way a child with a condition this serious looking can be otherwise healthy.’ It was very overwhelming.”

In the coming weeks, they met with doctors and specialists for further testing, and everything indicated that—aside from Brooks’s cleft—he was developing like any other healthy baby. And while the Bellews’ local care team gave them good news, they didn’t have the information on cleft lip repair that the family was looking for.

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Determined to overcome HLHS

Peter-Dunn-3 Kerri Dunn can always tell when her son Peter is determined to do something because when he gets deeply focused his face scrunches up and he squints one eye tightly shut, which his mother says makes him look like a cute, 2-year-old version of Popeye.

It’s a face Kerri sees a lot, because Peter is a very determined little boy. The youngest of six children, Peter is always trying to keep up with his older brothers and sisters—or “my kids” as he calls them. And, despite his smaller size, he still manages to do so—whether they’re walking, running or even climbing trees.

While his determination to keep pace with his older siblings may seem cute on the surface, it’s actually an incredible testament to Peter’s strong will. Not only is he managing to follow in their much larger footsteps, he’s doing so with only fifty percent of a working heart beating inside his chest.

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